Review: Drupal Multimedia

Drupal Multimedia

Drupal Multimedia offers an in-depth look at how to integrate images, videos and audio into a Drupal site. The intended audience is beginners and intermediate developers who want to learn how to better control and display media on their sites. Dealing with multimedia with Drupal often feels much more complicated than it should be, but this book definitely helps to make it more comprehensible.

Getting the learning curve right in the first chapter of an intermediate Drupal book can be tricky. I think ‘Drupal Multimedia’ does well here – assuming a bit of knowledge of Drupal, reviewing the basic building blocks of the system briefly, then diving right into installing the CCK and Views modules. Examples of using these are worked through, before moving on to discuss theming and overrides – again with simple examples. A lot is covered in the first forty pages, but without overwhelming the reader.

The second chapter begins to look at dealing with images, with good introductions to using the Image module and its related Image Gallery to easily create a simple gallery. There’s also a discussion of embedding images in articles with Drupal, which looks at how this can be done by enabling editors to use full HTML or, more usefully in many cases, how to use Image Assist to allow images to be added to posts more easily. Installing TinyMCE as a WYSIWYG editor which works with Image Assist is also covered. This chapter will be very useful to new users of Drupal, for whom the lack of a built-in editor and basic image-adding functionality is likely to be something they miss straight away. The next two chapters go into more detail about using images – looking at more complicated development and theming issues. There’s examples here of using the ImageField and ImageCache modules and coverage of how to customise your image output.

Video is covered in two chapters which look at dealing with both third-party and local video. Using the Embedded Media Field module for third-party video is covered, followed by a look at using the FileField and jQuery Media modules for serving local video. A chapter on file asset management covers options for managing media files, looking primarily at the Node Reference, Asset and Media Mover modules. Audio is covered in three chapters looking at audio nodes, audio fields and theming audio. These discuss the Audio module and also revisit the FileField, jQuery Media and Embedded Media Field modules.

The final chapter is an interesting preview of the future of Drupal multimedia. This offers a tantalizing glimpse into an easier future for handling multimedia with Drupal 7. For me, two of the biggest drawbacks of using Drupal for building and maintaining sites are the hoops you have to jump through to deal with simple file handling and the hideous complexity of the administration menus. A lot of the administration options are frankly unintuitive and difficult to remember if you’re not using them constantly. It’s good to learn from this chapter that the Drupal development community is actively working to improve things in these areas.

I got a lot out of this book overall – especially from the detailed recommendations for the use of particular modules. The author puts across complicated concepts very accessibly with well-chosen examples which build up satisfyingly to help you understand the big picture.

Drupal Multimedia by Aaron Winborn is published by Packt Publishing.

Related posts

I’ve looked at other books on Drupal in previous posts on Learning Drupal and Drupal 6 Themes.

Review: Drupal 6 Themes

Drupal 6 Themes

There’s an ever-growing number of decent books appearing about Drupal, covering in detail various aspects of this complex CMS and catering to different experience levels and levels of coding ability. ‘Drupal 6 Themes’ by Ric Shreves fills a niche for detailed coverage of Drupal’s theming functionality for users with decent HTML and CSS skills, and maybe a little bit of PHP. It’s a book that I think designers and web managers wanting to add Drupal to their skill-set can get a lot out of reading and it’ll certainly help a lot if you’re starting out on the labour of wrangling with the design of a site based on a theme someone else created.

The book’s well written with a sensible structure, moving from general discussions of how theming in Drupal works to specific demonstrations of how to modify existing themes and build new ones from scratch. There’s a very clear explanation of the best ways to employ intercepts and overrides to achieve style changes and useful coverage of theming Drupal’s forms.

One of the most difficult things about changing the look of Drupal sites is the sheer number of CSS and template files you usually have to wade through. This book includes a short introduction to tools which can help with this – like Devel’s Theme Developer module, and the Firebug and Web Developer extensions for Firefox. There’s also detailed listings of Drupal’s theming elements and core CSS files.

Overall, this is a good solid read which can really enhance a new or intermediate Drupal user’s appreciation of how to get the most of theming. However, theming isn’t the only thing you need to master to get a Drupal site looking exactly the way you want. For an all-round understanding of  Drupal’s front-end, I’d also recommend you look at O’Reilly’s recent Using Drupal as well, which has demonstrations of using CCK and Views – as well as a good chapter on theming (although it doesn’t go into as much detail as this book). There’s also a forthcoming book on Front End Drupal due out next month which I definitely want to pick up.

Drupal 6 Themes: Create New Themes for Your Drupal 6 Site with Clean Layout and Powerful CSS Styling by Ric Shreves is published by Packt Publishing.

Related posts

I looked at a number of other starter resources for getting to grips with Drupal this January in a post on Learning Drupal.

Learning Drupal

drupal logoDrupal is an open source content management system which you can use for free to build all kinds of sites. For an  introduction, see the About Drupal page on the drupal.org website. It scores highly among open source CMSs in terms of its flexibility and the large number of available modules offering bolt-on functionality. However,  this flexibility and vast choice of add-ons comes with a cost in terms of a steeper learning curve than some other systems. You will therefore probably need to do some reading before getting started.

I’ve recently been looking through some of the entry-level Drupal books to plan a project and this is what I thought about them:

Building Online Communities with Drupal, phpBB, and WordPress (Expert’s Voice in Open Source) by Robert T. Douglass, Mike Little and Jared W. Smith. (Apress, December 2005)

The oldest of the three books I looked at, this covers three web applications for the price of one – including a decent basic guide to the features of Drupal by Robert T. Douglass. If you’re using the latest version of Drupal (version 6) then you’ll need to hunt around the interface a bit for some functions which have been moved since this guide was written. However, I still found it usable and it’s an ok buy if you have a starter-level interest in all the three applications covered. An updated edition would be great though.

Building Powerful and Robust Websites with Drupal 6 by David Mercer (Packt Publishing, April 2008)

This is an ok choice if you want a straightforward manual-type run-through of Drupal’s functionality. It covers Drupal version 6, so is more up-to-date than the previous book. The declared audience is “people with little to now experience in website design, people who are not familiar with PHP, MySQL or HTML, and above all people with little to no experience in using Drupal.”  For such non-experts there’s a nice introduction to concepts like building a site in a development environment before deploying it and good advice on maintaining back-ups. However, if you’re not new to Drupal or content management systems, then you will probably not get as much out of this.

Using Drupal by Angela Byron, Addison Berry, Nathan Haug, Jeff Eaton, James Walker and Jeff Robbins (O’Reilly, December 2008)

This is a big book (464 pages) and I haven’t worked my way through the whole thing yet, but its already my definite favourite and the Drupal book I’d recommend you get if you only buy one. It goes beyond being a simple manual that explains Drupal’s functionality and looks at case studies of the types of site you may want to build and how you would go about using Drupal to construct them, including choosing and configuring modules. The case studies include a job posting board, product reviews, a wiki, a photo gallery, a multilingual site and an online store.

The fact that its examples involve the latest versions of dozens of modules means that this book will no doubt date quickly. However the authors have foreseen this and do provide a more generalized discussion of  principles for selecting modules which will stand readers in good stead in the long term. For the moment though, this book is an excellent snapshot of Drupal’s potential as well as having  immense practical usefulness if you need to develop the types of site covered.

These are the three books I’ve looked at, but there’s a full list of currently available books on the Drupal site at http://drupal.org/books, including more advanced texts on developing Drupal modules and themes if you want more than just guidance on using Drupal effectively to run sites.

If you don’t want to spend money on a book, there are plenty of free resources for learning about Drupal on the drupal.org site. These include the Drupal documentation (http://drupal.org/handbooks),  including case studies at http://drupal.org/cases. You can also browse the Drupal forums at: http://drupal.org/forum, especially the “Before you start” forum at http://drupal.org/forum/20. There’s also a listing of Drupal learning resources at http://groups.drupal.org/node/5674 (although it’s getting a bit long in the tooth and some of the links are dead).

Finally, Lullabot has a great selection of articles, videos and podcasts about Drupal at http://www.lullabot.com.

Related posts

Review of Drupal 6 Themes by Ric Shreves